The Vagina Aisle

I went to Rite Aid today hoping to find some cold medicine that would help clear my head. Instead, I left super irritated (and without my cold meds) because I was reminded how much I hate the phrase “feminine hygiene”.

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What “Feminine Hygiene” Should Mean

When I wander into an aisle labeled “feminine hygiene” I should expect to find all things related to…um…feminine hygiene. I should be able to shop for makeup remover, facial cleanser, body wash, shaving lotion, etc.

Not so.

What “Feminine Hygiene” Actually Means

Anything to do with my bleeding vagina.

Why This is Stupid

Aside from the phrase being annoyingly inaccurate and misleading, it’s packed with a lot of horrible meaning. Notably, there is no “Masculine Hygiene” aisle, implying that being female requires more hygiene. Vagina = dirty. The remnants of this mentality is not surprising in a culture founded by puritanical and patriarchal thinking.  What is surprising, however, is that establishments that sell to women haven’t changed with the times in order to make the shopping experience less awkward. Instead, it seems like they go out of their way to make it WORSE by shoving all the “Icky Sex Stuff” into one aisle and, by labeling it “feminine”, putting the responsibility entirely on women.

But this is a cruel joke to both genders.  Placing the condoms next to the tampons and calling the aisle “feminine hygiene” (aka, dirty vagina) is AWKWARD TO EVERYONE!  Men don’t want to shop in the vagina aisle. Young women, who may still feel a little awkward about menstruation, certainly don’t want to shop in the vagina aisle – especially if there’s a chance they may run into adult men shopping for condoms.

Words are powerful –  they have a real effect on how people perceive the world, and using euphemisms for words that were historically taboo only perpetuates the “taboo-ness”.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with shelving these items in the same vicinity. The only thing wrong is that we’re not calling things what they actually are in favor of using “code words” that are packed with negative implications. I’m sure pharmacies and grocery stores aren’t purposely trying to alienate a huge portion of their customer base by using phrases that have generally been accepted for years. I’m sure they’re just sticking with the “tried and true” without putting any thought into it. But this lack of thought is the problem: continuing to use these phrases just perpetuates the shame and awkwardness. If we remove the taboo from words and phrases that describe sexual health would go a long way towards a healthier (and less taboo) conversation – not to mention, an easier shopping experience.

How about calling things what they are?

Check out this gem:

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Feminine protection? Sanitary protection? What does it mean?!

I’d like to propose that all grocery stores and drug stores make the following changes:

  • Feminine Hygiene should be “Tampons & Pads”. It gets the point in fewer characters.
  • Family Planning should be “Family Planning/Prevention” since pregnancy tests and condoms are generally on the same shelf. Let’s get real about what’s actually on the shelf and the intent behind these items.
  • Get rid of phrases like “sanitary protection” and “feminine protection”. They don’t actually mean anything.

And while we’re on the subject of bullshit terms, I find this one particularly amusing.

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“Sanitary napkins.”  What do they think I’m doing? Popping off to the stall so I can eat my sandwich in privacy?

Yes, yes. We know “sanitary napkins” is supposed to mean tampons and pads. But that is not what it says. What it says is, “Words relating to bloody vaginas is awkward so I’m going to obfuscate it by using euphemisms…but (nudge, nudge) you get my meaning…” Just stop.

Retailers, Restaurants, and Sign Makers – I Beg You…

Please, stop being afraid to use the correct words that apply to the objects to which you’re referring. Stop preserving  a mentality of shame and awkwardness where none should exist.  It’s a choice you can, and should, make.

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